Been under the weather this week, so we’ve been doing very little other than the bare minimum. Work, mostly. The coping mechanism for this has not changed in four decades… All I want to do when I get home is crawl under a quilt on the couch and read old comics. Mug of soup and toasted-cheese sandwich optional.
I’ve been doing a lot of this kind of reminiscing lately, what with the recent passing of Murphy Anderson, the visual architect of DC’s Silver Age… and now George Barris, designer of the 1966 Batmobile (or as we call it in this household, the “real” Batmobile) is gone as well.
Moreover, this weekend the Decades channel is running a Green Hornet marathon. It’s 1968 all over again here as far as popular culture is concerned.
As it happens, I have a pile of old DC Giants and other childhood faves here that I picked up at various shows we’ve been to over the last year that I haven’t gotten around to putting away. It occurred to me that this is the perfect time to go through that pile and reread them, and I’m having vivid flashbacks of where I was and what I was doing when I first got them.
For example, here’s the 100-Page Sgt. Rock Super-Spectacular.
I remember my first encounter with this comic because it was such a pleasant surprise. I was all about the superheroes back then, and anything that wasn’t that got ignored. But this one happened to be in the barber shop where I was getting my hair cut, and it was the only comic in a pile of tattered back issues of Sports Illustrated and Field & Stream. So. figuring it was the only game in town, I picked it up and was immediately sucked in. This was my first-ever war comic and my introduction to DC’s entire lineup of battle heroes… and a great introduction it was, since the theme of the issue was mostly ‘origin’ stories and first appearances of characters like Johnny Cloud, Mlle. Marie, and Cap’n Storm. I don’t know why I didn’t look for more of these, because I really enjoyed this. But I’m making up for it today; I was first in line for every SHOWCASE PRESENTS featuring those characters.
Here’s another one that I just purely enjoyed the hell out of seeing again. Batman #218, featuring “The Strangest Cases from Batman’s Crime File!” (Not to be confused with the Treasury Edition of “Batman’s Strangest Cases!” that came a couple of years later.)
This was, I believe, a vacation treat. We were spending a weekend on the coast, in Lincoln City, and it was pouring down rain. This was a consolation prize for not getting to go out on the beach, and considering that I’d rather read comics than go out on the beach in ANY weather, it was a great deal for me. The stories in the Giant are all older ones; but for the most part they’re really entertaining and work pretty well even today. Certainly I found them utterly absorbing at the time. Probably my favorites were “Batman and Robin’s Greatest Mystery,” in which the amnesiac duo must figure out their own civilian identities, and “The Hand From Nowhere,” a pretty nutty story in which the twist is that it’s NOT actually a big alien hand, but instead Lex Luthor pretending to be a big alien hand.
And I remember being hugely intrigued by the newspaper strip reprint, “Four Hours to Live!” Oddly enough, I think this is the only story in the bunch that’s available today– in the Batman Sunday Classics collection.
It’s a pretty good story, but what fascinated me was the idea of Batman in the newspaper comics. I felt vaguely robbed at missing out on that. Of course, had I known then that I was also missing out on CURRENT Batman newspaper comics as well, I’d have been disconsolate.
Fortunately, I did not, and as it turns out those are available in book form today as well, if I am overcome with an urge to get caught up.
But I have plenty of old-school stuff right here. For example, Superman #239, a giant collection featuring “Superman’s Greatest Battles!”
This was a comic that I bought off the stands at the old Village Drug, which was the only comics stand I could get to back then, and that only once every six weeks or so. So my quarter always went for the Giants; I wanted something that would last me.
The first half of the book is a somewhat goofy two-parter featuring Hercules trying to beat out Superman for the hand of Lois Lane. It didn’t do much for me then, and not even the stellar art job Wayne Boring did on the thing saves it for me.
BUT! The rest of the comic makes up for it. We get the origin of Titano the Super-Ape, which I sort of remembered from the then-current Filmation cartoons.
The real showpiece is “The Showdown Between Luthor and Superman,” a classic story from the Weisinger era that blew me away when I first encountered it, and I still like it today.
“My” Superman lives here, in the Kryptonite Sixties, and I never completely stopped checking in with him, all the way up through his swan song in “Whatever Happened To the Man of Tomorrow?” I’m a little annoyed that DC quit doing the Superman Showcase Presents volumes just as they were getting to the good stuff, the galaxy-spanning stories like this one.
The premise is a bit silly but I was on board with it when I was ten. Mostly because it involved the same kind of playground politics that were the bane of my own existence back then. Luthor challenges Superman to a ‘fair’ fight, claiming the big guy is too much of a coward to take Luthor on without super-strength. Superman accepts, flies both of them to a red-sun planet where he has no powers, and promptly gets the shit beat out of him.
You’d think that Superman would realize that even a super-genius like Lex Luthor would have to be pretty ripped, what with all that time spent in the prison yard. Superman learns to take a punch, though, and is starting to rally when it’s the end of the round. During the water break Luthor escapes into a nearby forest of alien cactus and starts trying to flat-out murder Superman in a totally UN-fair fight, because, well, he’s Luthor. Then there’s a sandstorm and the two are separated, wherein Luthor is found by the local inhabitants, and it turns out they think he’s pretty awesome.
By the time Superman catches up to him, Luthor’s enlisted the whole planetary population.
When you’re ten, that shit is HARDCORE. I was always more about Batman than Superman, especially after he got his coolness upgrade from Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams– but what I loved about Superman comics was the world he inhabited, the galactic scale of it. His adventures ranged across all of time and space. (What I was really responding to, though I had no idea this was true, was the giant imagination of Edmond Hamilton, who’d been committing galaxy-sized mayhem in the pulps since before I was born. When I did find that out in the late 1970s, I made it my business to go find his books.)
Anyway. I got all that AND this amazing map of Krypton.
You know, I love that comics have moved from being disposable drug-store newsstand filler to being actual books, but I can’t really think of a comparable gateway comic-book experience for kids today. Maybe some of the trade paperback collections that are out there. But I look at my 6th graders that are responding so enthusiastically to Supergirl and the Flash on television, and it baffles me that no one’s put together some kind of inexpensive introductory “Best of” collection featuring either of those characters to put in grocery stores. It seems like a no-brainer to me.
But that could just be the cold medicine talking. Speaking of which. I’m going to heat up some more soup and dive into the Pile again.
See you next week.
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